On my third time seeing it, I have to say this one is a couple steps below the better Hitchcock films.
First, the original is better.
Nothing much wrong with the acting.
Hitchcock uses a lot of his favorite and familiar old suspense tricks here and many are effective but the execution of the plot and the screenplay are mostly second-rate.
The script has a million holes in it, many parts are just not believable including the crucial scenes at the end.
The ending is a letdown.
Great concept by Howard Hughes to shoot footage of exotic Macao - great footage of the streets of Macao - brilliant.
Unfortunately, Hughes wasn't a screenwriter or a director - and that's where the problems are here.
Some great actors show up - and some beautiful shots of Gloria Grahame who looks stunning, Robert Mitchum and of course Jane Russell. William Bendix is playing his usual shady typecast role but the screenplay lets everybody down.
On top of the bad screenplay is the problems with the directing. Supposedly Mitchum and director Josef Von Sternberg couldn't get along, threatened to have each other thrown off the movie until Sternberg was replaced - it would be his second to last film. The replacements didn't seem to know much what they were doing between Nicholas Ray and Robert Stevenson and Mel Ferrer you can pretty much tell when they are involved because the film becomes standard studio fare.
Grahame is underutilized though it led her to better roles. Supposedly she was held back by Hughes from acting in Born Yesterday which might have changed her career - and instead put her in this.
Kind of a shame - they had a chance for something special here.
Just 21 after she sued Warner Bros. for better roles, Leslie ended up in this dark post-war film noir. Far too dark and downbeat for a country who had just emerged victorious from WW2, it wasn't a success.
Watching this film today, it doesn't add up. Too much of the film is a stretch. I like the concept.
What makes the film is the enormous radiance of Joan Leslie. This is a tour de force from Leslie and she has all the qualities of a great star. If you are a fan of Joan Leslie or appreciate a good piece of 1940's glamorous acting from the Golden Age, this is for you.
Nearly great movie - Hitchcockian mystery but not as smooth
Like a great movie released the same year - The Big Sleep - this is a very confusing mystery movie like a Raymond Chandler novel or Hitchcock film - but the corners and edges are rougher and the script is not as smooth and clever. The dialogue also doesn't compare to that great film and frankly a number of the scenes just don't cut it.
The ending is a bit of a letdown to be straightforward.
The director Don Siegel is making one of his first films - before he would go on to things like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Babyface Nelson and of course Dirty Harry.
He looks to still be getting his bearings here and considering his lack of experience -does a very good job.
The adapted screenplay in in capable hands just falls short of greatness.
Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are a great team - they make up for a lot of the film's shortcomings. There is a strong cast of British actors who also give the film some added weight. George Colouris is excellent - he was part of the Mercury Theatre group of Orson Welles. He played Walter Parks Thatcher in Citizen Kane.
The mystery of this film is really Joan Lorring - who is beyond excellent and on the screen for far too short of a time. She is mesmerizing every second she is on and it is a great wonder she did not turn into a major star as she was obviously meant to be. It doesn't make sense that Jack Warner, who produced this film, would have let her leave the studio to go on to a career in independent productions, Italian movies, and the New York theater when she could have been as big as Ava Garder or Audrey Hepburn.
Major letdown with Cagney and Raft but not their fault
Two of the greatest 1930s heavyweights show up here in James Cagney and George Raft but this is a major disappointment.
The subpar script is a moralizing tale which is actually about 30 years ahead of its time in 1939 telling stories about corrupt prison officials and brutal guards. 30 years before Attica.
But the story meanders into utter impossibility with a storyline which is impossible to believe and the direction falters. The dialogue is folksy for a 1939 prison tale.
Not a dame in sight for 35 minutes. Perhaps five minutes in the whole movie shows the one woman in the film.
Tough to take.
One of those scripts which tries to do too much - too ambitious - I'm sure when Cagney and Raft read the script they thought this would be a much better picture.
Not a lot of compelling reasons to watch aside from Cagney and Raft. Very good performances by both - one of the few times I can remember seeing Raft with his longish hair down and not all greased up or under a hat.
One of the worst wastes of a cast you will find. Bette Davis reportedly hated this film and clashed with the direction and studio over the filming. Her husband was ill at the time and Jack Warner dragged her back to finish the movie.
Davis also had laringytis during the shooting and at points in the movie you can hear it as her voice breaks.
John Huston began the direction but was summoned to WW2 and Raul Walsh finished it. Walsh and Davis didn't see eye to eye.
Davis complained that screenplay was a poor adaption of the novel. The screenplay is like something out of a bad B movie.
What makes it all worse is Olivia de Havilland is great, as is George Brent, Charles Coburn and an underutilized Billie Burke. Dennis Morgan is a rather pathetic role.
The film is noteworthy historically for giving a lift to the representation of African Americans - which is partially a credit to Davis who selected the actor.
As the years have gone by and AMC plays The Godfather on a constant loop, there has developed a sort of common wisdom that this film is as good or some even contend - better than the first.
This is simply not the case on either count.
There are come wonderful aspects to this film - namely the emergence of Robert De Niro, the 1910's New York City tenement scenes, the depictions of old rural Italy and some great acting from Al Pacino, John Cazale and Robert Duvall.
This film was automatically at a disadvantage from the first with no Marlon Brando, James Caan, Richard Conte and Sterling Hayden - four great actors, A fifth - Richard Castellano, is the greatest loss on the film because it is a self-inflicted wound due to a dispute over money and allegedly dialogue- so Clemenza is sloppily erased from the story with some confusing tale which we won't go into.
So this movie is at at a loss of five great actors to start with and picks up one monumental discovery in De Niro who on his own nearly makes this great to warch. The bad guy of the film - Italian actor Gastone Moschin essentially replaces the original bad guy Al Lettieri (who famously dies in the original) in a piece of good acting.
Hyman Roth, a Jewish mobster partly based around the story of Meyer Lansky (like most of the subjects in these movies these men are loose composites drawing from different characters). Roth is played by Lee Strasberg - a great acting teacher who developed the method style of acting deployed by Brando, Pacino and De Niro - but not the greatest actor.
Roth has some memorable lines and it is a good performance by Strasberg but the character is really nothing like Lansky's actual character and the film takes a lot of liberties with this storyline which is far from the truth and ends up really muddying the script in some nutty premise which is not believable. I won't give anything away, but Lansky never did half of the things that are suggested here. But his greatest line is about Moe Greene (loosely based as a composite of Bugsy Siegel).
Apparently, director Francis Ford Coppola wanted James Cagney to play Roth's part but perhaps Cagney didn't like what Coppola did with the character.
Fans of the show Sopranos may be interested to know that Roth's lieutenant Johnny Ola is played by Dominic Chianese who played Tony's uncle Junior.
The dialogue is not up to par with the first. Some of the scenes are more for show and effect and impression than substance.
There are a number of holes in the storyline which are not properly resolved.
There is a quick appearance by the late Danny Aiello.
Bruno Kirby makes a good impression in one of his earliest roles.
Michael Gazzo does an adequate job as essentially Clemenza/Richard Castellano's replacement but it always feels like he is a replacement player.
Pacino's new (and old) bodyguard seems completely out of place the entire time.
Diane Keaton and Talia Shire are good in returning roles. Keaton has a memorable showdown with Pacino.
All in all this is a great movie, and it is darker than the first - in some ways much darker. Most of its greatness lies in the back story that is told in the flashback scenes.
Some fine actors and actresses here: Lana Turner, Arthur Kennedy, Diane Varsi, Hope Lange, Russ Tamblyn, Terry Moore make it worth watching but there are too many cringy moments which are a product of its 1950's code times and an apparent nervousness in the director and scriptwriter to push the envelope of high school romance and how far they can take the subject which gets older with every scene they try it in. Eventually, the movie becomes unwatchable.
It's a shame because the film starts with a lot of promise in the way of Arthur Kennedy.
Our introduction to Diane Varsi is mesmerizing. You can't help but wonder why she didn't become a hugely successful starlet - unfortunately her story was a sad one in which Fox Pictures suspended her when she refused to do a movie after a nervous breakdown and it was all downhill from there. Varsi was nominated for an Oscar.
Amazingly, five of the actors were nominated for Oscars but nobody won. A movie with some promise and nice touches and nice performances which just fell flat. It probably seemed edgy at the time but comes across as too hopelessly pretentious now.
This is not in the top 10 of Hithchcock's best work but you see how the master is developing here in 1936. His use of the camera, his feel for suspense set him apart here. Some of the ways he develops some of the characters is simply brilliant you see the genius that would be fully mastered by the director later on in "Suspicion" and "North by Northwest."
The story and rhythm are not so smooth here as in his later pictures. It is more disjointed.
You have to pay close attention here because it's easy to get lost and confused.
While this is not a great picture, it is a must-see for Hitchcock fans.
Disappointment, slightly below average screwball with early Cary Grant
One of the few Cary Grant movies to fully disappoint me - especially surprising since its 1934 but the direction failed him.
Preston Sturges is one of the writers, but didn't get to directing yet (this is six years before The Great McGinty and The Lady Eve). But you can see the handprints of Sturges on this Paramount picture.
The problem is there are four writers and they don't seem to be on the same page with each other or the director.
Sylvia Sydney is very good in a comedic role but the material is dated.
Vince Barnett's comic relief is just beyond annoying and almost drops this to a 3-4 rating.
There are two parts of this movie which are noteworthy besides the actors:
1. The use of split screen: this was rarely used by this time and is always fascinating before the digital age.
2. If you pay close attention you will see parallels to Chaplin's The Great Dictator (six years later) in the use of mood, sets and costumes. I am convinced Chaplin saw this and was influenced by parts of it.
The first half of this movie makes you think this could be an all-time classic. Burt Lancaster won a much-deserved Oscar for his performance here. At times, Lancaster is bouncing off the screen.
Jean Simmons is excellent.
At times I feel their is a slight strain between Lancaster and Simmons and sometimes they seem to have good chemistry.
Simmons and the director Richard Brooks fell in love on the set and she divorced her husband to marry Brooks right after filming completed.
When watching some of these scenes and knowing this, you can't help wonder if intentionally or subconsciously the director kept Simmons and Lancaster from getting too close on screen and keeping his flame to himself.
The ending is horrible and I won't ruin it but it is a bad ending and certain aspects of it make no sense and do not follow the trajectory and spirit of Lancaster's character and how we would have reacted given the way he is presented throughout most of the movie.
Another crucial scene involving Lancaster's character deviates from the way he is shown for the first half of the movie.
The blame here lies with the director and his adapted screenplay of the Sinclair novel.
In full disclosure, I haven't read the novel so blame may also be with Lewis but Brooks still has to share responsibility as he is the one who is portraying the Lancaster character.
As far as plot goes, this involves the 1920's period and is focused on religious revivalism. The movie does a good job in its treatment of the subject for the first half of the film but loses its way in the second half and that is a shame.
First, the technicolor on this 1949 film is just beyond outstanding. You will see shades of green and purple that will blow your mind away.
Judy Garland is as good as she can be in a character that is perhaps not the most well developed but a good vehicle for her otherworldly talents.
Buster Keaton provides some classic comedy relief.
Sakall is as solid as always.
Van Johnson is OK but his character is terribly absurd and the whole story is just ridiculous average to below average quality for this period. The writers and director alternate between wanting to make this standard 40's Hollywood melodrama and alternate to 1930's screwball but it just never clicks.
The most emotional part is the ending which I won't give away but look for Liza Minelli as a toddler.